Psst...Japan's most popular drink for over 500 years for everyone from babies to adults is still a big secret. In Japan it's seen as so common, like water, so brands simply haven't considered exporting and promoting it overseas. It's a delicious tea, enjoyed hot or cold, with multiple health benefits. What's the drink? Roasted barley tea, aka mugicha in Japanese. It is caffeine, sugar, and calorie free!
The popular origins of mugicha go back to 1517 when the Imperial Regent Toyotomi held a party for all the citizens including children and the elderly where they enjoyed roasted barley tea, instead of traditional tea. In the late Edo Period of the 1800's, roasted barley teashops opened. After refrigeration became available cold mugicha was enjoyed at home, with the first teabags appearing in 1963.
What makes mugicha so special? Its toasty smooth taste and nutty aroma, and its reputation as the ultimate thirst quencher in the blisteringly hot and humid Japanese summer months. But this is not ice tea as you know it. Mugicha is made with cold water poured over the teabag, put in the fridge to steep for an hour or so, then it is enjoyed like water, from morning to evening. Hot mugicha is often served complimentary in restaurants, and enjoyed for its soothing taste anytime of day.
Just how big is mugicha in Japan? Well, there are over 65 mugicha brands, 1000 different types of products, and the market is still growing! Babies love it, and besides water it's their favorite drink. Older kids love it too, so the last drink a Japanese child would reach for would be pop or anything sugary. Their go-to drink is always mugicha.
Although there are many websites promoting the perceived health benefits of mugicha with no data to backup their claims, there have been several studies that clearly explain the scientifically proven benefits. The main ones are that mugicha: promotes blood flow which can help prevent various lifestyle diseases, contains many antioxidants which fight free radicals, can help prevent tooth decay due to the enzymes in the roasted barley, can help prevent the chills, and can help reduce mild stomach inflammation.
Keep in mind though that mugicha isn't for you if you are gluten intolerant as it is made from barley and not recommended.
The typical Japanese summer scene of buzzing cicadas, colourful yukata, and a warm summer breeze wouldn't be complete without a glass of mugicha, so why not give it a try and see if it quenches your thirst too?